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Using public transport

Today I’m going to talk about getting your child to use public transport. This is obviously a goal for an older child and it can’t be entered into too early.

Jamie was 14 when I decided to start him on public transport. We had a respite carer who gave us four hours a week and I decided it would be better for that person to teach Jamie. The situation was that I would collect and drop off Jamie to his school (four suburbs away) every day. I had been doing that for the whole of his school life.

The bus ran from our suburb to the city, then there was a bus change and he would have to take another bus to his school. As we could use the carer for four hours a day, I asked him to spend two hours in the morning going to school with Jamie and two coming home.

Before they started, I took Jamie on the trip twice (however, at his age he resented my ‘babysitting’ him). Firstly, I showed him on Google Earth – our location, the route and his destination. Then I showed him the bus timetable and we worked out which time would be the best. As we did the actual trip, I pointed out various landmarks, particularly key ones which would indicate any approaching stops.

As I handed Jamie over to the care of the respite carer, I asked the girl to carry on with these tips. After about four or five weeks, Jamie started to resent the carer being with him. “Why do I have to have a carer?” he asked.

“Do you think you can do it alone?” I asked.

“Yes,” was his reply.

I was stunned. And not a little frightened. We decided on a date that Jamie would try on his own and I got in touch with his school, asking the teachers to watch out for him boarding the bus back to us at home time. I also made sure that Jamie knew how to use his mobile phone and how to contact me, if necessary.

Then the big day came. The journey took about fifty minutes in all and with his carer he had been home by 4pm. I waited anxiously for him. Four o’clock came. Five past. Ten past. No sign of Jamie. Finally I rang his mobile.

“Oh, hi, mum,” he said. “I’m just at the shops.” I was so relieved. The shops were just up the road.

“Great,” I said, “I’ll see you soon.” I hung up and waited. And waited. At 4:30 I rang him again.

“Well,” he said, “I’m just walking up by the doctor’s.”

“What?” I screamed inwardly. The doctor’s was a good two kilometres away.

“Okay,” I said out loud. “You stay there. I’ll come and get you.”

Frantically I dashed out to meet him. When I finally found him, I gathered from his explanation that he had taken the right bus but on the wrong side of the road so he was heading out of the city on the way to our doctor’s. I thanked God that at least he recognised the place.

That incident is now well behind us and Jamie goes regularly by public transport into the city and on to other places. Although the experience can be hair-raising, it is so wonderful when your child gets to learn his/her own way around the city. My advice is:

  1. Make sure they have a mobile phone first and know how to use it

  2. Make sure they are familiar with the local area

  3. Let them practise with you first and then with another person (say a relative)

  4. Inform the school what you are doing (or another person whose home your child is visiting)

  5. Put a short note in your child’s pocket saying their name and address so they can give it to any person they ask for help.

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